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Competency-Based Education

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Every student has unique talents and abilities, and every student deserves an education that adapts to their needs rather than requiring conformity to an outdated model of education. Our nation’s goals and expectations for all students have risen. The conventional, one-size-fits-all system of education must evolve and adapt to meet the individual needs of each student and equip them for success in the 21st Century.

Competency-based education is a system of instruction where students advance to higher levels of learning as soon as they demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills regardless of time, place or pace.

A traditional, time-based education system advances students based on their age, regardless of what they have learned. This outdated model limits student achievement in two fundamental ways: it holds back students who could be excelling more quickly, and it pushes students forward who are not yet ready, leaving them with gaps of knowledge, skill and understanding that must be filled later.

The time has come to redesign education from an age-based grade level system to one where students advance based on what levels of learning they have mastered. The pace and style will look different for different students, but the goals of mastering and understanding concepts and allowing students opportunities to “show what they know” in order to advance to more challenging material remains constant.


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Watch now: Policy, Pilots and the Path to Competency Based Education. 

“We continue Picture2to transform education to a personalized system where every learner is met at their level. They are guaranteed success. They are challenged. They are pushed and they leave our system ready to choose college or their career.” Thomas Rooney, superintendent of Lindsay
Uni­fied School District, California

Listen to Superintendent Rooney’s entire presentation on competency-based education in his district.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is competency-based education?

Competency-based education (also called mastery-based or proficiency-based education) is a system of instruction where students do not move on to the next concept or skill until they have shown that they have learned (or mastered) the current concept or skill.

In a competency-based education system, an individual student progresses as learning expectations are met, rather than moving through a predetermined curriculum schedule dictated by fixed, age-based grade levels or seat-time requirements. A student can accelerate through concepts and skills they have mastered when they are ready to move on, and receive more time and support in areas they have not yet mastered.

What is the main problem CBE will help the current system address?

Too many students graduate without having the skills or knowledge to be ready for college or career. Diplomas and credits based on seat time and mere passing grades signal to students and families that they are ready for college and career, but the data tells us otherwise.

  • Employers find many high school graduates are not fully prepared for work. Four in five employers report that recent public high school graduates have at least some gaps in preparation and report an increase in the need to require additional training and education.[1]
  • Students perceive gaps in their preparation. A recent survey of high school graduates revealed that many feel unprepared for both college and work and admit they would have worked harder if more had been expected of them.[2]
  • High school graduates require postsecondary remediation. More than 50 percent of students entering two-year colleges and nearly 20 percent of those entering four-year universities are placed in remedial classes.[3]

There are clear signals that despite adopting college- and career-ready standards, the original problem of students advancing from grade-to-grade or graduating without achieving proficiency of key skills remains. The requirement to demonstrate competency in order to advance will help ensure that students will graduate when they are ready for college and career, regardless of how long it may take or what their learning path may look like.

What are the benefits of a competency-based education model?

One of the benefits of a competency-based education is the creation of a fully transparent system that can adapt and serve the needs of individual students.

Currently, a parent may not know about an issue until the first report card—months into the grading period. Even worse, students could earn “B” or “C” grades yet still be years below grade level. Students are graduating with diplomas only to find out they need post-secondary remediation. Remedial education is not only disheartening to the student but also costly. If they are not prepared, students must bear the additional tuition costs and taxpayers must pay again for an education that should have been secured while in the K-12 system.

In addition, the regulatory freedom in a competency-based system liberates educators to design courses, schedules and staffing configurations that best meet their students’ individual needs. Educators are empowered to be innovative and nimble. Free from existing, outdated policies, they can maximize more of the day and even utilize extended learning opportunities. This can free up needed resources for the students who are struggling the most.

[1] Source: Achieve, Rising to the Challenge Part II,
[2] Source: Achieve, Rising to the Challenge
[3] Complete College America, Remediation: Higher Education’s Bridge to Nowhere, 2012

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